EXAMINE YOUR MOTIVES
Lord, teach us to do the right things for the right reasons.
Read ZECHARIAH 7
Justice and Mercy, Not Fasting
7 In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, the month of Kislev. 2 The people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-Melek, together with their men, to entreat the Lord 3 by asking the priests of the house of the Lord Almighty and the prophets, “Should I mourn and fast in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?”
4 Then the word of the Lord Almighty came to me: 5 “Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted? 6 And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves? 7 Are these not the words the Lord proclaimed through the earlier prophets when Jerusalem and its surrounding towns were at rest and prosperous, and the Negev and the western foothills were settled?’”
8 And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: 9 “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’
11 “But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. 12 They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the Lord Almighty was very angry.
13 “‘When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,’ says the Lord Almighty. 14 ‘I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations, where they were strangers. The land they left behind them was so desolate that no one traveled through it. This is how they made the pleasant land desolate.’”
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Do you go to church to have a feel-good time or a real God time, when you let God challenge how you live for the rest of the week?
About two years after work begins on rebuilding the temple, a delegation comes to Jerusalem with a question for the priests and prophets. Should they continue to observe the fast in the fifth month, which marked the destruction of the temple by the Babylonians (2 Kings 25:8, 9)? Zechariah does not answer the question immediately. The fact that they came to “entreat” (2; a strong term, maybe indicating that they brought offerings) God suggests that this is more than an enquiry about liturgical practice. They seek an end to the hardships of the Exile as punishment for the nation’s sin. So Zechariah brings a challenge from God to everyone, not just the delegation: examine the motives for keeping fasts and feasts. As well as this one, they kept a fast marking the murder of Gedaliah in the seventh month (2 Kings 25:25) and feasts like Passover, Weeks, and Tabernacles. Were these used for genuine repentance and thanksgiving to deepen their relationship with God? Or were they primarily concerned with making life more comfortable for themselves? The Exile happened because their ancestors ignored the earlier prophets’ warnings that their outward adherence to religious rituals was mere hypocrisy because they were not living out the terms of the covenant. In particular, they were not caring for the vulnerable and needy in society (Isaiah 1:10–17; Amos 5:21–24). Are his hearers guilty of the same hypocrisy, or have they learned this valuable lesson?
Jesus was as scathing as the prophets had been when faced with the hypocrisy of some of the religious leaders of his day (Matthew 6:5, 16; 9:10–13; 23:23, 24). Fasting, prayer, and church attendance should not be used to make ourselves feel good or to look good in the eyes of others, but to develop our relationship with God. That relationship should then be evidenced by the way we live day to day.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Matthew 5:8; Psalm 51:10)
Lord, we profit from the mistakes of Your people Israel. When You issue a commandment, we listen and obey.
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